Campus creatures: Nature column

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Peter Cooper

_MG_1994Have you ever stopped to realise just how lively Penryn Campus is? By that I don’t necessarily mean the queue in the shop at quarter to 1 in the afternoon, or the behaviour of students at peak inebriation during a Stannary party at quarter to 1 in the morning. If you just stop to look around, our university is home to a huge array of animal and plant life, getting on oblivious to the students rushing past them. Did you notice the huge flock of goldfinches chirruping away in the oaks as you rushed past them to catch the bus, or did you hear the guttural croak of the ravens flying overhead? Even in the initially drab looking car park by the Exchange, pied wagtails cavort and bob their neat black-and-white tail feathers like merry parking wardens, and even the nationally scarce black redstart, a relative of the robin with a coal plumage with the exception of it’s flame-orange underbelly, frequents this spot one would not normally associate to be rich in wildlife.

Heading away from the bustle of campus, pathways framed by ancient stone-walls, themselves adorned with bluebells, wild garlic and red campion in the Spring, lead you to the allotments, where it’s not only the Green Living Society benefitting from the produce of the Earth. The insect rich hedges and copses in this area attract birds at all spectrums of the food chain, from the diminutive firecrest to the sight of a sparrowhawk darting like a silver arrow through the trees in pursuit of prey. Crawling through the leaf litter and grassy tussocks here and out into the fields surrounding the overflow car parks are a multitude of small mammals – trapping surveys have found there to be healthy populations of common & pygmy shrews, field & bank voles and wood mice here, including the nationally protected water shrew.

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At night, these animals must be on their watch as they head out to feed, with hungry tawny owls, foxes and even badgers (a sett can be found not far from Glasney Parc) regularly patrolling campus as the lights go out. In the spring, bats fly to feed on a huge diversity of moths, which includes some particularly beauties, such as the poplar and elephant hawk-moths. We’re also blessed to have a healthy population of hedgehogs on site, and a night-time stroll through Glasney can reveal several of the animals foraging for earthworms, remarkably tolerant of drunk students returning home from the Stannary.

Yet we can’t take this for granted – and despite our campus’ very good green credentials it’s inevitable that as it grows, development will inevitably begin to conflict on where wildlife can live on-site. In a world where nature is undervalued by politicians and legislation and a blight on ‘progress’, it is frequently up to individuals and communities to stand up for their local wildlife, and that should be exactly the case for students, staff and local people who are very lucky to have such a green campus to live or work on. There are plans building within EcoSoc to establish a wetland nature reserve at the bottom of campus and increase public education of the wildlife around us, but you don’t have to do something that requires big planning and hoop-jumping to do your bit for wildlife. Getting out and seeing the fantastic wildlife we have to offer is enough to rally the care to jump to its cause should anything stand in its way.

There are very few, if any, university campuses with quite as much nature on-site elsewhere in the country. Let’s be sure to keep it that way.

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